Mort Rubenstein, 91
Life happens when you have other plans. That was one of my father’s favorite sayings.
On a beautiful Tuesday morning in July, my nearly 92 year old father Mort finished Monday’s N.Y. Times crossword, called some of the GOP politicians pontificating on TV “schmucks,” and started on Tuesday’s puzzle.
Then he had a stroke and never regained consciousness, passing away on Sunday night, July 11.
There’s really no other way to describe my father Mort than to say he took up a huge amount of space for a small man. He was one of the original Mad Men, a television and ad agency art director in the 60s, working for Vanity Fair, Vogue, then CBS Network for over 20 years. He was on the team that designed the CBS Eye and launched the Golden Age of TV and promotion for its shows.
Yes, he was generous, impossibly smart, devastatingly funny, and loved his family and friends dearly. While he taught me about friendship, responsibility, the New York Yankees and the necessity for good design in all things, including soap dishes and kitchen appliances, I think the greatest lesson he left to me was his theory that nothing that happens in life is so awful if you can get a good story out of it. That theory gave me my writing career and I am thankful for that.
And even his passing, at almost 92 years of age, will doubtless leave us with a story or two to temper the true awfulness of losing him. Just last week he told me that while he was 91 he knew how he was going to get to 95. How? I asked. His answer:take 684 to 287 and the GW Bridge.”
He didn’t make 95 but he lived a large 91.There is no chance that a day will go by in my life when I won’t think of Mort. I will think of him when I write the story of his last days, surrounded by his adoring and adored wife Joan, his four children and their spouses.
I will think of him every time I get asked to make a contribution to charity and give as much as I can; whenever I hear Bing Crosby, or music by Gershwin or Cole Porter and expect a quiz on the show it’s from. I will think of my father every time I drink a dry martini or do a crossword puzzle. I will think of him whenever I’m cold and remember him dismissing my discomfort because after all, be went through the Battle of the Bulge in his summer underwear. Tough to beat that.
I will surely think of him every time I go to purchase a chair, a towel, a lamp, a home appliance—whether he would declare it beautiful or “Boy is that ugly!” He is the only 90 year old I ever knew to spend weeks picking out new window treatments. And the only straight man I know to call the curtains window treatments in the first place.
I will think of him hollering back at the TV when conservative pundits blather. And I will certainly think of him exactly one half hour, like clockwork, after eating his favorite food, a hot dog, and hear his mantra of gastric distress “I’m sorry I had that hot dog.” When I was growing up, that was the family motto.
I will think of Mort whenever the Yankees win and whenever the bums lose. I will think of him whenever a picture on the wall is crooked; god forbid, and whenever I look in the mirror and hear him say “That’s what you’re wearing?” Yes, he could be judgmental and when my self esteem falters I might be having a flashback. But I will also think of how he showed me that people can change and become comfortable with and then passionate about things they might not initially understand.
I will think of my father well and often. I miss him terribly already and hope I can continue to tell the stories that prevent life’s situations from getting me and the folks around me down. He’d have laughed at the fact that my almost two weeks in NY, between his being stricken, his passing, the funeral and the aftermath left us only eight hours to pack the RV and get ready to leave town for a three week vacation.
Why vacation under the circumstances? We’d rented our house out. He would have enjoyed that hilarious example of “timing is everything” too.
So here I am, on the first leg of a Maine/Canadian vacation in our RV as I write this. It will be a great time for sightseeing and reflection too. In my next column I will report from the road. For now, all I can say is that wherever my father is now, I hope someone asks him if he’s comfortable, so he can utter his favorite answer, “ I make a living.”
He certainly did, In every way.
Fay Jacobs is the author of As I Lay Frying—a Rehoboth Beach Memoir and Fried & True—Tales from Rehoboth Beach. Contact her at www.fayjacobs.com.